The next time you hear someone say, “I don’t believe in having regrets,” pay attention. You’ll most likely hear it from a celebrity on t.v., but it’s a mantra that has come to define our culture. We are a culture that doesn’t believe in having regrets.
What this really means is that no one ever wants to admit they made major mistakes in their life, or that they wish things were different for them. That’s why the idea of a life without regrets is so appealing. It encourages us to surrender ourselves to the tide of the universe, embracing a vague theology about how everything happens for a reason. And there is something to be said for focusing on the future instead of beating yourself up about a past you cannot change. Even from a Christian perspective, God sets us free from guilt. While we should feel convicted about our sin and strive to do better, the punishment for our past mistakes has already been paid. God doesn’t ask us to continue punishing ourselves. From that angle, the mantra of “no regrets” is somewhat compatible with a Christian understanding of God’s sovereignty and His grace.
However, regret and guilt are two very different things. We don’t need to bear the guilt of a sin from which we’ve been forgiven, but we should certainly feel remorseful about it. We should be sorrowful that it happened. But our culture doesn’t make this distinction, which is why the language of sin and guilt is so unintelligible to them. When we try to articulate disobedience to a world that doesn’t believe in having regrets, or when we explain sin to a culture that “did the best they could with what they had” or “made the choice that was right for them,” the concept doesn’t take hold.
This unintelligibility becomes particular obvious in discussing topics of morality, such as divorce or premarital sex. In a world where people don’t have regrets, it doesn’t matter that a person had sex with a ton of different people or that they were married multiple times. These decisions are recounted as valuable experiences that shaped them into who they are. Now they’re stronger for it. No regrets.
Under this light, the ideology’s true colors are revealed. While it portrays itself as the ultimate live-life-to-the-fullest kind of worldview, it’s really just a cover-up for selfishness. Maybe someone has no regrets about their divorce, but what about their spouse, or their children? And while a guy or girl may have no regrets about the people they slept with, what about the partners they may have hurt? While we shouldn’t bemoan the things we had no control over, or be wrought with unending guilt about the past, we should certainly regret the times when we hurt ourselves, or others.
A life defined by regret isn’t healthy, but a life with NO regrets at all is just as unbalanced.
Knowing this about our culture, it does give us some insight on how to articulate our faith. God doesn’t warn us about sin simply because He’s a prude. He’s not a stick-in-the-mud deity in the sky who doesn’t want us to have any fun. He warns us against sin the way a parents warns a child about a hot stove. It will hurt us, and it will hurt others. We live for Christ as a means for being free of those snares, not because we’re better or holier than others.
As Christians we want to be free of regrets, but that doesn’t mean we superficially gloss over the ways in which we’ve messed up. In taking those mistakes seriously, we acknowledge the people we have hurt, including God, while embracing the forgiveness that awaits us in Jesus Christ. A life without regrets does neither.